President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, Leon Panetta, is scheduled to be honored by the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, despite his strong pro-choice voting record. An alumnus of the university and member of the board, Panetta also co-sponsored the federal Freedom of Choice Act and later defended Clinton’s veto of a bill banning partial birth abortion.
The Santa Clara School of Law plans to award Panetta, at its “5th Annual Diversity Gala” for his work for “the cause of equality, social justice, and human rights,” notes a press release from the university.
The university fails to mention that Panetta, a member of Santa Clara’s board of trustees, not only has a strong pro-abortion voting record from when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was also the co-sponsor of the federal Freedom of Choice Act. Later, as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, Panetta defended Clinton’s veto of a bill that would have banned partial-birth abortions.
According to California Catholic Daily, while the university describes itself as Jesuit, Catholic and “committed to faith-inspired values,” it appears that Panetta credits his abortion stance with advice he received from one of his professors at Santa Clara. In a form letter to his constituents in 1992, the then-congressman wrote that as a Catholic, he accepts certain beliefs for himself and his family, however as a congressmen, he felt he could not impose those views on others.
“As U.S. Congressman, I am involved in defining policies that determine other people's rights in these same areas of life, death, and morality. Perhaps Rev. Austin J. Fagothey, a Jesuit Priest, who taught me at Santa Clara University and renowned for his scholarship in ethics and morality, stated it most clearly in responding to the abortion question: ‘A state, especially the pluralistic state of today, must operate within the framework of popular consensus. The argument for the immorality of abortion, the theory of rights on which it rests, and the philosophy underlying the ethics there outlined is not accepted by a large part of the population. I can be convinced of it beyond the shadow of a doubt and steer my own life by it, yet be unable to convince my fellow citizens of my views. Do I then have the right to impose my philosophical convictions any more than my religious convictions on others who disagree with me? I think not, and this is the reason why I think there should be no laws on abortion. I believe the best way to cope with abortion is not by punitive legislation but by a persuasive program of moral education aimed at building up a respect for life.’”
The Cardinal Newman Society, a group dedicated to strengthening Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S., released a statement regarding the university’s decision to honor Panetta.
CNS president Patrick Reilly strongly stated that “A leading advocate for the Culture of Death is no friend of justice or human rights. With so many admirable defenders of the Culture of Life in our country to select from, it is despicable that Santa Clara University has chosen to award a Catholic who is so clearly opposed to the pro-life work of the Catholic Church -- even worse, to put him on their board of trustees.”